INTERVIEW: Damien Jurado, Part 2

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Videos by American Songwriter

Without further adieu, here is Part 2 of Rachel Briggs’ interview with Seattle singer/songwriter Damien Jurado.


















Click here to read Part 1.


If you approach it that way, maybe it might free you up as a songwriter? If so, it wouldn’t be predictable. There wouldn’t be so much of that “I, Me, My, Mine” in it.
Right, exactly.

So you could be investing in the songs, but you are also at the same time separating yourself from them. Like a screenwriter would write a film, but in turn, they’re not in it. They’re trying to create this visual that’s in their head, and have some one else act the story.

As it is, it’s almost like you feel…I don’t know. It’s weird. The other day, I thought of Vincent Gallo…to go along with what we’re talking about. Vincent is a very talented guy, he does most of his own soundtracks, he does his own directing, he does his own acting, which is great. Eventually, though, you come to a point where you’re thinking, “Dude, this is just another Vincent Gallo movie.” Maybe Alfred Hitchcock could even fit there…not that he did his own scores, but I’m sure he had a hand in it.

Right, I get it. After a while, you think to yourself “This is familiar.”
Right, I mean, I think it would be different if they were just songs, but they’re not. They’re a lot like stories.

In that same vein, when you are writing songs, do you think on a bigger scale, “This story might go with this other story?” It seems like And Now I’m In Your Shadow flowed so well. Do you think of songs matching well together, or is it something larger? How do you make an album so cohesive with a collection of songs and stories?
Well, Shadow and this record are both different, and so different from their previous records-which I like. I’ve kind of caught on that the press doesn’t like it that much; how every record is different, which seems a bit weird to me. You have bands like The Beatles, where every record was different, and even current artists, like Beck. When he releases a record, you never know what to expect. For me, the same can be carried over into the live setting; the press and audience never know what to expect. It could just be me on my own for one night, or a different take over the choice of songs we play. I always like that element of surprise. I don’t like going to shows and knowing already what I’m going to see. That’s just kind of boring.

With each album being different, how does that work? On Shadow, I felt that there were songs that ran into each other, and not in a bad way. The flow of tracks felt organic. Is that something you think about in the recording phase? How did you think through building an album?

For me, every song, whether they run into each other or whether they’re separate, I want it to sound like a movie storyline of sorts. You have songs like “I Had No Intentions,” then it goes into this instrumental piece or “Gasoline Drinks” go into more instrumental. They’re there to break up the record. So there’s a little bit of that on the new record too, where there is a string part at the end of “Sorry Is For You” that goes into “Last Rights.” To me, again, it just goes along with me wanting it sound like a movie or short story. Some of the songs are different. I keep mentioning the press, and I don’t want to keep bringing them up, but they say “Well, he’s just all over the place, once again,” but it’s like every song is different than the next. I don’t want a record that sounds the same f@#$ing song. So every song is like its own story. That’s why I want the record to sound that way.

I agree, but there is glue there. It’s kind of like you have some contrapuntal strings in some of your songs. Like when a bagpipe player plays one low note, and the chanter plays the melody over that drone. I think you do this, but obviously on a larger scale. Some people use a cello, and you even do it with stringed instruments: creating haunting sounds that tie facets together.

Oh, yes. Totally. For me, the music is so important for what’s going on. The music is the score to the lyrics, which are creating the story of what you’re seeing or listening to: the dialog. That’s fundamentally what it is.


The new album, so it’s not a continuum? It’s something new when looking back to your previous album, And Now I’m In Your Shadow?

Yes, it’s completely different. It’s different on so many levels. One being it’s such a collaborative effort, there’s a band now. And two, coming from the songwriting standpoint. Lyrically, this is the first time that I’ve actually been able to write from my viewpoint for a while. That wasn’t really intentional-it was just something that happened because of things I was going through at the time. Things I was going through while I was on tour with the Now I’m In Your Shadow tour. Between then and now with this record, there was a lot that happened in my life, I feel like I was forced to write from a personal perspective.


Right…and from a recording standpoint, I really like, and I might be phrasing this wrong, but I like to hear blemishes. They add to the song. Maybe it’s the fingers on the fret of the guitar, or the reverb of the room you’re recording in. I think it adds character, and seem less produced. You seem to gravitate towards that often.

Yeah, I love that. I do. And you know, this record actually took the longest of all the albums to record ever, out of every record I’ve done. I’m used to recording in like two weeks, or a week even. Ghost of David took only two days. This took almost an entire year, so it’s such a different record.

I’ve heard some of your covers: Among the few, you did a song with Rosie on the Bruce Springsteen tribute album The Badlands, and even songs of J. Tillman, another songwriter who lives in Seattle. Both of them live in your town. That being said, do you feel that you are surrounded by creatives? How is the music community in Seattle?
Oh, we have the best music community ever.

Is there a lot of helping each other out?
It’s great. There’s no pretentiousness, which is awesome. All the bands know each other. Everyone respects each other, no matter if you are on a major or an indie, or not on any label at all. Tillman is a good example. He’s a good friend, we’ll go to shows and we play together. We know Ben Gibbard; we hang out. It’s not like that because Ben’s on a major label that there’s some divide or whatever. Like the Fleet Foxes fellows were on Letterman; that was weird and great to see them in that setting. It’s only weird because I’ll have just spoken to them on the phone, or have sent me an e-mail when I got back in the states from tour, or texts from Robin that say “Hey we haven’t seen each other in a while, I hope the tours are going well.” It’s just great to see musicians from Seattle on the national or international level, being good friends, running into Ben Gibbard or whoever, like Sean Nelson from Harvey Danger, at the grocery and then the next week you’re seeing them on the front page of Pitchfork or Spin. Or on Letterman. But Seattle’s that kind of town.

I like Seattle, I’ve spent some time there. It feels like a big town, but in the community it feels small and familiar.
It’s small, yeah. Seattle’s an illusion. It’s such a well-known major city, but when you walk around its tiny, in comparison to other towns. You could be miles north of the city, and be at the Space Needle in 20 minutes.

Random question: tell me your connection with Thomas Denver Jonsson, the songwriter from Sweden.
He’s a great songwriter. He’s amazing. He’s also kind of intimidating. Even though English is his second language, he’s writing the most poetic songs.

I know, which is fascinating. Scandinavia produces so many great songwriters. Maybe it’s this approach of using the English language differently. Maybe it’s a combination of words that is different, but subtle and very effective.
Right. Well, we did a tour with Thomas over there, and that’s how we met him. We did a whole tour, like four weeks with Thomas. Touring with him, we’re trying to teach him American slang and trying to correct his speech on so many things: how to use “ph” in a word, things like that, or “v” instead of “w.” But by night, after a long day of being in a van filled with English lessons and speakings, you watch him on stage and you can’t help but think “Dude, how is it that you have trouble saying the words “vinyl” or “father,” but you write down these incredible poetic lyrics?” [laughs]

Yeah, I think its great [laughs].
Yeah, Swedes have this strange grasp on the English language, but most of them can’t speak it worth a shit.

Haha!
Not to change the subject, but what’s it like living in Nashville?

Oh, it’s a great town, I dig.
Do you see famous people?

[Laughs] I mean, there are the familiar famous faces. Jack White, that dude that was in Northern Exposure…Oh, Nicole Kidman!
What, really? Why is she…oh yeah, she dates that guy.

She’s married to Keith Urban. Pop country? I don’t know, I’m not in that scene [laughs].
[Laughs] I just thought of this, you know what’s weird about pop country is that they have the best short stories. They can be terrible and dumb, but at least they tell stories. They’re able to do it in this strange, glossy pop element. New country absolutely fascinates me to no end.

I know, it’s like those writing exercises in high school where you have an object and you have to describe it in so many words. They can, for instance, look at a beer bottle, and write a three-and-a-half minute song about it. It’s pretty great.
I guess I first noticed it when I heard the Dixie Chicks. It’s rare to find a country singer female who can play an instrument well, but they played theirs so well, and their stories are like “What? You just summed up an entire short story into a two minute pop hit!” How is that even possible? Nobody does that.

Right. Maybe its country music has more breathing room to do that. I don’t see it going on in many other pop music realms.
Well, hip-hop does it sometimes, by building scenarios and whatnot within a song. But besides bands like Okkervil River or The Decemberists, where do you ever hear…

Good storytelling?
Right. Like, never. You know, there’s so much crap and it’s frustrating.

There is, but that’s a whole ‘nother tangent.
I’m just saying that new country, which is such a formulated deal, has some of the most creative lyrics. I don’t get it.

Well, it’s just another way of how songwriting is approached. You rarely have country stars that write their own songs, it seems. In Nashville, there’s the whole way that Music Row is run; the old way of the music industry. It’s down to almost a process, a factory of sorts.
Being a musician and choosing Nashville to get big, it’s like moving to Hollywood to become an actor. It’s an illusion.

It is like that, but to be fair, there are two sides of Nashville. There’s also a thriving community that isn’t necessarily country. There’s a fantastic indie scene that’s very DIY and brotherly here.
Maybe I think that’s why bands like Nirvana had the success that they did. They came from a small town and didn’t have to go to wherever. L.A. came to them. I’m always telling my friends who want to be producers or photographers, just stay here instead of moving there. Because if you leave, you’re just going to get swallowed up like everybody else.

It’s very true.
Let them come to you, wherever you are at.

I feel like when you’re in an atmosphere that isn’t arts saturated like L.A. or larger cities, it might be a bit more poignant. If I hear a fantastic sound from a local band, it’s a breath of fresh air, and I’m thankful they’re making this town their home to be creative and grow.
I feel the same way here in Seattle. It’s a very good feeling.

It’s the juxtapose to the conceptions of music/arts machine.
Juxtapose is the exact word for it.


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